In recent years science and technology has elevated to heights beyond anything imaginable a couple decades ago. Computers are getting more powerful and with it, ideas of orbital weapons.
It is exactly as it sounds. These weapon systems would orbit the earth ready to strike anywhere on the globe within minutes. It is a extremely interesting and exciting topic one that almost or some speculate is a reality.
Kinetic bombardment is a theoretical method of attack using relatively simple projectiles which release incredible amounts of kinetic energy. The Outer Space Treaty restricts weapons of mass destruction from being positioned in orbit however the actual treaty only covers biological and nuclear weaponry and not anything like a kinetic bombardment system.
The usual depiction of such a system is depicted in the picture below. A satellite which orbits the earth holds large poles of metal which it can then send down to its target with the help of gravity as its main propulsion.
There is a slight problem though. You won’t be able to use just any metal because of the re-entry heat that is caused by the air friction. So tungsten would be the likely metal to be chosen due to its high melting point (6,191 F or 3,422 C, being the highest melting point of all the elements)
These poles would be 20 ft long and 1 ft wide weighing a hefty 18,952 pounds or 9 U.S. tons. The mass of such objects would be 8,596 kg. It is theorized that such projectiles would reach approximately mach 10 before hitting their target. Forgive me but we are going to do some math or at least I am. Lets go ahead and find out the kinetic energy of an object hitting a target at that speed.
KE = 0.5 x (m)(v)²
KE = Kinetic energy
v = velocity
Now we go ahead and plug in our values.
KE = 0.5 x (8,596.64 kg)(3430 m/s²)
KE = 4,298.32 kg x 11,764,900 m/s
KE = 50,569,300,000 joules or 50.569 gigajoules
That is an impressive amount of energy being release by only a pole without explosives! To get a perspective on exactly how powerful this is a ton of TNT releases approximately 4.184 gigajoules.
That means this weapon system is capable of dishing out a total of 12 tons of TNT upon impact. Now keep in mind that some of the energy would be released in other ways like sound, heat, light, and other products of such a intense release of energy in a short amount of time.
This weapon system has some major difficulties however. Some of them mostly having to due with logistics. Getting such a heavy payload up into orbit is not cheap. Not cheap at all. There is a reason why NASA tries to keep things light. The more weight you add the more thrust you need and with more thrust the more fuel and the weight just keeps going up and up.
Not only that but these projectiles in theory don’t have any complex hardware to guild them to their target. They only have information gather from another satellite which the ‘bus’ satellite uses to position itself towards the target or on a trajectory where it will hit it.
Such a weapon could prove worth it. Twelve tons of TNT is quite a bit of punch from just a pole but accounting for the logistical side of the equation it may not be ideal. There is one benefit to such a projectile and that is the lack of radioactive fallout. The weakest nuclear weapon weapon devised was the W54 Warhead which was to be used in the Davy Crocket Nuclear rifle. It had a yield of 10 to 20 tons of TNT. While the modern United States nuclear missile has a yield of 50,000 tons of TNT (B61-12).
At any rate a weapon that has such a large impact with a simple projectile is impressive. Some speculate that such a weapon exists, waiting up there in orbit. Others think its still a theory. Who knows maybe there are 20 foot long 1 foot wide tungsten poles shooting around the earth at 3,600 miles per hour, ready to unleash a bunch of telephone poles.